- In June, NARD staged a week-long strike, but doctors treating coronavirus cases remained on the job.
ABUJA: Nigeria's health minister said Wednesday that a strike by doctors in state-run hospitals was ill-timed due to the coronavirus pandemic and urged them to return to work immediately.
The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), which represents some 40 percent of the country's doctors, began the indefinite strike on Monday over pay, overcrowded facilities and a lack of protective equipment.
The industrial action is the latest in a string of stoppages by medics to hit Africa's most populous nation as it struggles to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
"We must remember that the primary duty of doctors and all health workers is to save lives," Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said in a statement in Abuja.
"Embarking on a strike at this time that the country is battling with the Covid-19 pandemic is ill-timed and ill-advised," he said. Unlike previous strikes, medics treating coronavirus patients were part of the latest action.
"This is therefore one strike too many. Besides, most of the demands have been met and others, though difficult, are at advanced stage of implementation," Ehanire said.
He urged the doctors to "return to work" immediately.
He also ordered state-run hospitals to make sure that treatment of virus cases and other emergencies were not hampered by the work stoppage.
There are some 42,000 doctors in Nigeria, out of which 16,000 are residents doctors -- medical school graduates training as specialists.
Doctors have long complained of a lack of beds and drugs in hospitals as well as inadequate protective kits.
Other demands include life insurance coverage, a pay rise and payment of unsettled wages.
In June, NARD staged a week-long strike, but doctors treating coronavirus cases remained on the job.
The authorities fear any reduction in capacity could harm the country's ability to tackle the pandemic as its number of infections continues to rise.
Nigeria has recorded more than 55,456 coronavirus cases and 1,067 deaths, out of a population of 200 million.
The virus has so far infected around 1,000 health workers in the country, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.